Biogen shares up after strong launch for rare disease drug

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Shares in Biogen have jumped after an encouraging launch for its new drug Spinraza, the only treatment for the rare muscle-wasting disease, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).

In its first quarter results, Biogen said worldwide Spinraza (nusinersen) revenues were $47 million, even though the drug was only approved in the US late last year, and has yet to be approved in Europe.

Analysts had only expected sales of around $30 million for the drug priced at $125,000 per injection in the first year of use.

Shares were up almost 4% to nearly $287 on the Nasdaq stock exchange following the announcement.

Reuters reported that analysts Cowen & Co believe that over 100 SMA patients are already on the drug in the US, with most eligible patients likely to receive it by year end.

Chief financial officer Paul Clancy said in a conference call that around 75% of all US insurance plans now cover the treatment.

This is despite initial concerns that the high price of the treatment would prove to be a barrier to access for many patients.

EU approval of Spinraza is highly likely as the European Medicines Agency’s CHMP scientific committee has recommended a licence. This means the European Commission will probably approve the drug in the coming weeks.

Biogen will follow this with filings in another 10 countries this year, as new CEO Michel Vounatsos oversees his first major product launch since he succeeded George Scangos in January.

Biogen needs another blockbuster as its biggest selling drug, Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate), is facing tough competition in multiple sclerosis. Sales of Tecfidera were flat, up 1% compared with last year’s Q1 $958 million.

In the long term, Biogen has taken a huge gamble on Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab, taking the drug into phase 3 development despite a series of high-profile failures among its rivals.

No drug has yet been marketed that makes any significant impression on the disease’s progression, and any drug to produce an effect could be worth billions in sales.